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Wednesday 27 October 2021


You’ve heard of transhumanism? The concept of modifying humans with technology to make ourselves stronger and more able. Some people have argued that that’s exactly what prosthetics are, whilst others think the tech has to advance further. But, can we do it with plants?

New tech has ripped bits out of a venus fly trap and integrated them into a new robot to mechanise a grabbing claw. It is, if you like, a Frankenstein’s monster of the plant world, a terminator to terrorise all triffids. Or, you know, a cool little gadget. A bit like a litter-picker.
Mnolf via Wikipedia Commons.

The tech involves installing electrodes on the leaves; running a small current is enough to initiate the plant’s natural clenching reflex: it can’t do anything about it, and the reflex operates even when the leaves are severed from the plant (a bit like a severed head blinking).

Controlled by a mobile phone, the transphyto grabbing tool can securely pick up a 1 mm fine wire, or seize a heavy weight as it descends. But it is just a gimmick, or could this technology have future and useful applications?

Sadly, there are still some technological challenges to be overcome. Working with biological material means durability and resourcing challenges, and also that the components work in a way best suited to nature rather than fast-paced industry. The venus flytrap, for example, is designed to close on prey and stay closed as the prey is slowly digested: it doesn’t open up again fast. Treat it with an electrical impulse, and the the result is the same: the leaves clamp shut and, once shut, stay like that for hours. Researchers are still working out how to overcome this.

Happy Halloween!

why don't all references have links?
W. Li et al. An on-demand plant-based actuator created using conformable electrodes. Nature Electronics. Published online, January 25, 2021. doi: 10.1038/s41928-020-00530-4.

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